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Hall commission chairman to request reopening tag offices

Oliver's proposal may mean a raise in property taxes

POSTED: September 6, 2011 10:56 p.m.

Commission Chairman Tom Oliver plans to ask his fellow commissioners today to consider reopening Hall County's satellite tag offices.

The tag offices in Oakwood and Clermont have been closed for little more than two weeks. Since then, demand at the remaining office in downtown Gainesville has increased exponentially, and residents have complained of long waits and little parking.

Oliver wants to put an end to those complaints immediately, he said.

"I think it's time we put a little quality back in Hall County," Oliver said.

Oliver's proposal to reopen the satellite tag offices would likely require using money from the government's fund balance — an account of "rainy day" money that commissioners have already used this budget year to support the parks program and balance the budget without a tax increase.

And it may mean a tax increase for property owners in the county next year to replenish the fund.

The Hall County Board of Commissioners will meet this afternoon to discuss a number of issues they're set to vote on Thursday.

It's uncertain whether the chairman will have any supporters on this issue and it is unlikely that there are enough votes in his favor to move the issue along.

Oliver was the lone vote in late June against a budget plan that cut funding for the tag offices among cuts to other government departments.

The four other commissioners, wary of Oliver's proposed tax increase, opted for the cuts as an alternative, carving out their own budget document in the final hours before the budget year began July 1.

As a result, the tag offices closed Aug. 19, forcing residents seeking a tag renewal to go to the county's downtown tax office where many waited in line for more than 45 minutes for service.

"We made a lot of tough decisions in the budget process, and it's going to be tough to try to undo some of the savings that we've created to make up for the $11.5 million shortfall that we had," said Commissioner Ashley Bell.

Bell, who is on a lobbyist-funded trip to Israel, won't be present at today's work session. But he said he hopes Oliver's proposal includes suggestions on how to generate more revenue.

"Without showing where the money's coming from, I think it could be an ill-advised move at this point, not knowing what sort of situation we're going to be in going into the next budget," Bell said.

But Commissioner Craig Lutz said the two weeks the two satellite offices have been closed isn't enough time to let the remaining office adjust to the new reality of more customers.

"That's not really enough time to gauge the size of the problem," Lutz said. "It's certainly not enough time that if there's a problem there, it's certainly not enough time for the staff to have an opportunity to fix it."

Commissioner Billy Powell also said the commission needs to give residents more time to adjust to the budget reality.

"I think if we're going to reconsider a major decision like that, I think we've got to give it more time," he said.

If that doesn't work, Powell said a more feasible solution might be to add another clerk to the downtown office to help lighten the workload.

And Lutz is wary of deciding to spend more money any time soon, especially if it creates the possibility of a tax increase next year.

"Next year is its own obstacle to start with," Lutz said. "I don't think we need to be in a position where we're putting more logs on the fire right now. We don't need to be loading down next year's budget with the potential of forcing us to have to do a tax increase."

The commission's work session is scheduled for 3 p.m. today at the Hall County Courthouse Annex.

 



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